Pondering a Microsoft-free future

OPINION: MS and I to go our separate ways.

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One of the commenters on The Register asked if Windows Server had gone “on a diet” for Server 2012. He was talking about how “bloated” Server 2008 felt compared to previous versions. (Damn you WinSXS! Damn you all to hell!!)

I started out with a nice succinct response: “On a diet? No. It’s bigger.” This rapidly went off the rails; however, as apparently I had some bitching to do. The following is some repressed neuroses about Microsoft and the SME space that bubbled out into a text box and was worth preserving for the sheer emotion elicited while typing it.

Microsoft’s shifting focus

NT thru to 2008 R2 were really good operating systems for SMEs. SME admins are generally people who administer systems rather than merely deploy and apply a configuration. There is a certain level of care and feeding because the cost of things matters. Every license used has to be counted. Every dollar is precious.

Server 2012 and 2012 R2 are both operating systems designed for the cloud. Oh, cynics will laugh, but it’s damned true. These operating systems are designed to make Azure work; nothing more, nothing less. I sat through three days of having that drilled in to my head: Microsoft learns something in Azure and bakes it in to Server. Microsoft learns something in Server and bakes it in to Azure.

That’s the real reason behind their new “Rapid update” approach to computing. They don’t ever want Azure to get too far out of sync with Server. So if you want to build your own Azure cloud – which is just a download now; comes with Server 2012 R2 – then Server 2012 R2 will let you fling your bits and stand up your servers in an automated fashion. You can build a truly amazing scale-out cloud with it; storage to networking to virtualization to management and beyond!

That sure is a pretty looking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow aircraft carrier floating way up there in the clouds. Marvellous technology that makes me pump my fist in the air and go “hell yeah” whenever it passes overhead. But once it has passed, I turn back to my busted bicycle and wonder: if I sell enough newspapers this month, can I afford to get a new chain? Maybe even some oil?

Keep your options open

One of the louder anti-Microsoft hypertrolls on The Register is right in one thing: If you are making the jump from Server 2003 you need to at least consider Linux. Over 50% of my deployed state is Linux and that number isn’t going down. Microsoft has moved into the cloud and now “the enterprise” is downmarket. If my experience is anything to go by they don’t give a rat’s ass about SMEs except as the chumps who they think will buy into Microsoft’s subscription cloud services.

Microsoft won’t even touch the true cost of cloud storage, issues of trust pricing critical technologies like VDI and cloud subscriptions out of SME reach or the issues surrounding trustworthy computing.

After Windows 8 and the “we’re listening to you by not addressing any of your problems” and the XBone “we fired a guy because he made the internet incandescently angry but went right ahead and did what he got fired for talking about angry, then meekly made a half-hearted attempt to apologise for it I’m not particularly inclined to trust Microsoft with my small business deployments.

Make no mistake, Server 2012 and 2012 R2 are truly excellent operating systems filled with amazing new technology that will make enterprise computing absolutely sing.

By the same token, EMC makes great filers, Cisco makes great core routers, IBM makes awesome server hardware and Oracle makes a hell of a database. They are, however, not vendors who target small businesses or end users.

(Math is) Hard Numbers

If you have more than 100 seats you’d be an absolute fool not to be deep into Microsoft’s pocket, but I don’t live in that world. I live in the “mass market” and more importantly I live in Canada. In December 2011 (the last point of published stats) we had 2,383,796 small or “indeterminate” (or government’s way of saying “too small to register properly”) businesses in our nation. A “small” business is less than 100 seats.

There were 18,999 businesses between 100 and 499 seats and 2,528 businesses with 500 or more seats. That makes 2,528 “enterprises” in my nation versus 2,402,795 SMEs. Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to have the SMEs smoking its cloud and paying yearly rent that they can’t afford for the privileged of staying in business. Microsoft has pissed away its Small Business editions of its products and otherwise done everything it can to shovel us towards the unknowable legal abyss.

I’m not okay with that. I’m not comfortable with that as either an approach to addressing the needs of the market or from purely technological, financial or legal standpoints. Microsoft’s approach to dealing with it’s customers makes my skin crawl on as much an instinctual, emotional level as it does from business concerns. You just don’t treat people like that; we’re not disposable and interchangeable cogs who can be cowed and manipulated into believing whatever doublespeak is required today.

It doesn’t really matter how “bloated” server 2012 or 2012 R2 are. In fact, a lot about the details of their implementation simply don’t matter anymore. Server 2012 isn’t targeted at most of us. Server 2012 isn’t designed for the 2,402,795, it’s designed for the 2,528.

Server 2012 and 2012 R2 are absolutely top notch technologies built strictly for the passion of making the best technology that Microsoft’s engineers know how. After it’s out of the nerd’s hands, however, it all goes horribly wrong.

I love Microsoft’s stuff, but it’s well past time I accepted the fact that they are simply out of my league. In the same way that I’ll gladly throw fibre channel into my lab and test it if someone drops it in my lab so to is it time to treat Microsoft. Neat from a technological standpoint, but it is time to get back to alternatives when designing my networks.

Wanted: vendor to bet the future on

Microsoft has abandoned SMEs. That means someone will need to fill their place in the mass market. Microsoft thinks that Microsoft’s own cloud services will fill the void. I vehemently disagree. (Not until Office 365 can be hosted in outside US control and sure as hell not until the price on VDI, O365 and IaaS subscriptions have come down quite a ways. Which isn’t going to happen, ever.)

So I have a new quest: find the replacement for Microsoft in the SME. It sure as shit isn’t Linux. Even with Webmin, Linux is a monumental pain in the ASCII to administer. It doesn’t have a decent remote desktop protocol and wine is utterly ass-tastic.

When I look around at what I actually put into my networks it is increasingly Apple, Android and Synology. If Synology had block-level replication such that I could replicate LUNs between two Synology units synchronously (to ensure high availability in case of the failure of a given unit) then I probably wouldn’t use any other “servers” at all.

Synology units provide me nearly bulletproof storage that’s dirt simple to configure. They have a “app store” that contains its own LDAP directory, e-mail server, web server and more. They can do file-based storage just fine and are a top-tier iSCSI target. I can put a VMware SMB licenceing pack on top of a 4-node FatTwin and still have a node to spare in case something goes boom.

“Virtual appliances” will solve most problems I need and are generally cheap to free (being Linux based.) That means someone else faffs about with getting Linux into a usable state, not my client or myself. There will be a few Microsoft VMs required, but they are increasingly rare.

The mirror, look into it

Microsoft has already become a legacy provider in my world by pricing itself out of the market that my clients and I can afford. When I truly search my feelings for why this bothers me so much I have a hard time facing the truth.

Fundamentally, I believe that Microsoft has the right to price their technology however they like. If they want to move out of reach even of my 100 and 200 seat clients, they can do that if they choose. It isn’t even that “there’s nobody to take their place.” There are plenty of companies out there that can and will.

The reason I am so angsty is that I liked Microsoft technologies. I liked their design aesthetic, (well, back in the pre-Metro day,) and I was really good at making them go. I was raised on it; it has been the bread and butter of my career. Microsoft was the foundation upon which my entire adult life was built and I have no choice but to walk away from it.

That is hard. It is scary. It is a whole new world of learning and discovery; Unix-based OSes have some pretty fundamental differences in their design principles that still seem “unnatural” to me, 15 years after I started working with them.

But Microsoft have gone one way and I another. I can’t follow them into this cloud they’re building. It’s time to fall in love with a Penguin.

About Trevor Pott

Trevor Pott is a full-time nerd from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He splits his time between systems administration, technology writing, and consulting. As a consultant he helps Silicon Valley start-ups better understand systems administrators and how to sell to them.

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